Thursday, 10 March 2011

Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart - Who's "Who" in Scottish Military History

Today is our first fictional Who's Who, and for this one guest writer Walter Dunlop writes about one of Doctor Who's most famous and well-loved characters.

Walter's blog Lady Don't Fall Backwards is well worth a look if you've any interest in Classic TV. 

Although few people knew and even less appreciated it, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who died last week, played a key role in the defence of the British Isles for many, many years.

Little is known outside of official circles about Lethbridge-Stewart's personal life. What we do know is that he was born "somewhere in Scotland" (he was seen in public on at least one occasion sporting the Tartan of the clan Stewart). Always reticent about his age ("need to know, old boy - need to know. And you don't need to know"), at least one source claims he was born in 1930.

Raised in Simla, India, he left for England at age eight to attend Holborough prepartory school. His mother died shortly thereafter. Coming from a long line of military Lethbridge Stewarts (General Lethbridge-Stewart was in the retinue of James I, while two others fought at Naseby and Waterloo), much pressure was applied on the young Alistair to follow the family tradition. Destiny called him, and he answered, enlisting at Sandhurst in 1953.

Upon passing out, he joined the regular army. He quickly rose through the ranks, eventually replacing the recently deceased Colonel Pemberton during The London Event. Despite some ill-informed reports suggesting he was serving with the Scots Guards, photographic evidence leads us to belive he was in fact serving with the Royal Scots at this time.  He played a key role in repulsing the invading forces which had caused London to be evacuated at that time, and his work was noted by certain interested parties.

Lethbridge Stewart pictured while serving with the Royal Scots.
When his considerable lobbying  led to the establishment of a special division devoted to the investigation of unusual menaces (United, later Unified Nations Intelligence Taskforce - UNIT) Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart was placed in charge. The post carried a promotion to Brigadier and Lethbridge-Stewart was answerable only to his superiors in Geneva (although as he wryly pointed out around the time of the second London Invasion, "we don't arrest people - we only investigate them"). During both of these encounters Lethbridge-Stewart was assisted by a small man known only by the title of "Doctor".

The files for UNIT are in some disarray, with any indication of the precise dates of subsequent events blurred or in some cases removed altogether. What is known however, is that Lethbridge-Stewart was to encounter The Doctor again. This time, said individual looked somewhat different, being taller, thinner and somewhat more flamboyant. Forming a relationship with Lethbridge-Stewart, this Doctor remained in UNIT's employ for some years as an unpaid scientific advisor, and the two men formed a friendship which was to last the rest of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's life.

UNIT played a key role in repulsing several invasions of Britain during this time (details classified - although a Miss Smith of Metropolitan magazine did file a highly censored article referring to "The Dinosaur Incident". Some clues may be gleaned as to UNIT's operating policy from this, but the lack of illustrative material has led some to dismiss it as nothing more than an overheated work of fiction). Miss Smith has maintained her journalistic links, working as a freelance from a base in Bannerman Road, SW10. Her path was to cross with the Brigadier again shortly before his death when he played a key role in defeating the second Bane incursion. He was later stationed in Peru and expressed regret at missing Miss Smith's abortive wedding.

Following several fruitful years working for UNIT (and recurringly assisted by Codename : Doctor, who appeared to take the guise of several different individuals during this period), Lethbridge-Stewart opted to take early retirement and assumed a position as a maths teacher at Brendon Public School. At some point during this period he suffered a nervous breakdown and dropped out of sight for a time, later resurfacing for an abortive UNIT reunion party in the early eighties. Shortly after encountering the original individual who called himself The Doctor, he disappeared from the UNIT grounds unexpectedly and would not be heard from again until he foiled another attempt by the Great Intelligence to invade Britain. He was assisted by Miss Smith and Miss Waterfield, a former travelling companion of The Doctors. He was to encounter yet another version of Codename : Doctor during this period (see file - Lanyon Moor).

He then retired to the country with his long-term companion, Doris. Their tranquility was briefly shattered when Lethbridge-Stewart was called from retirement to assist Brigadier Bambera in what UNIT dossiers will only refer to as "The Vortigen Incursion". It is known that he nearly died during this encounter, and decided - off the record - that "enough was enough". Despite this, he was called upon again during the Interplanetary Crisis between Earth and Mars. For his part in this he was promoted to General, and thereafter knighted. Sir Alistair also played a key role in the negotiations which led to Scotland's eventual devolution. He encountered his old friend The Doctor again, proving instrumental in smashing a diabolist ring in New York (and saving The Doctor's life, not for the first time - see file Minuet In Hell)

At this point Sir Alistair begain suffering recurring illness which almost prevented him attending the wedding of long-term acquaintance Professor Bernice Summerfield to Mr Jason Kane. Eventually persuaded to attend in the company of his old UNIT colleague Michael Yates (see file ref - Llanfairfach, The Dinosaur Incursion, Buddhist Retreat - Metebelis Incident) .He returned from this somewhat rejuvenated and in higher spirits, and was called from retirement one last time to repel a Canisian Invasion fleet. He went out in style, leading a UNIT warship from the dark side of the moon and arresting the Canisian warlord at the moment of his seeming triumph - in the singularly appropriate surroundings of Stonehenge.

Then tragedy struck. Doris died in a rowing accident, an event which would haunt the Brigadier to the end of his life. By all accounts he was never the same man again.

After this Sir Alistair faded back into the shadows, operating as an advisor only to UNIT (now under the charge of the abrasive Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood). On their last meeting, Sir Alistair was heard to refer - somewhat wistfully - to the Colonel's remarkable physical resemblance to one of Codename Doctor's many identities - "the skinny one in the pinstripe suit with the mad hair". Owing to his propensity for abusive and insulting language Brimmicombe-Wood's response is (perhaps thankfully) off the record.

Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart lived a full and productive life, and will be remembered with gratitude and affection by all who knew him. According to the dossier "Short Trips - The Gift" - his funeral was attended by all of the men who had traded under the name of The Doctor - surely a mark of the high esteem in which he was held.

He is survived by his daughter Kate, grandson Gordon and great-granddaughter Kadiatu. He will be missed.

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